Central Florida Lakes and Rivers

Florida is known as the Sportsman’s paradise, but many outdoorsmen might initially overlook one of the State’s most wonderful assets, its cornucopia of freshwater opportunities spanning across non-coastal regions. With thousands of acres of lakes and rivers, there’s no shortage of water and places to fish and enjoy the outdoors.

And what exactly is “Central” Florida? Definitions can vary, but for our purposes, we’ll be looking at the inland interior of the Florida peninsula starting at Ocala south to Lake Okeechobee.  With this in mind, let’s explore several lake chains  and the lower St. Johns River (including a few of its tributaries), and the adjacent wetlands.

Something Unique

Florida’s Natural Springs
If you’re not familiar with Florida’s springs, they are a must see. These natural features are typically well protected, being situated in densely wooded enclaves and featuring crystal clear waters. They also maintain a relatively constant temperature (somewhere around 72 degrees), so they offer year round swimming opportunities. The waters are refreshingly cool in the summer months and pleasantly warm in the cooler months. The gin-clear waters also make for great sightseeing, where you can view tons of fish species, alligators, amphibians, and in the coastal-adjacent springs–manatee.  With dozens of springs to choose from, there’s sure to be one near your Central Florida adventure.

The Promised Land for Largemouth Bass

When it comes to Central Florida, the first thought that comes to mind for any outdoorsmen is trophy, Florida strain, largemouth bass. We’re talking 10+ pounders all day, and this is no accident. Central Florida has some of the best largemouth bass fishing in the world. With a ton of different waters to fish, plenty of lily pad and maidencane cover for bass to hide in, and year-round warm temperatures, central Florida grows monster largemouth bass. Central Florida truly is the promised land for bass fishermen.

Although common throughout the state, Central Florida reigns supreme for Largemouth bass, and that’s saying something. The current Florida state record Largemouth bass, weighing 17.27 pounds was caught in Polk County in Central Florida.

If you’re looking for world-class trophy largemouth fishing, central Florida should be at the top of your bucket list.

Notable Lakes and Rivers

Central Florida is home to a plethora of lakes and rivers. You could presumably fish and enjoy the waters of central Florida for a lifetime and never run out of new spots. 

In its lower reaches, Florida’s longest river, the St, Johns, flows through central Florida. Along with its many tributaries, there are plenty of river fishing opportunities to be had. Many of central Florida’s rivers have a slow or “lazy” flow rate, so traversing them is easy and relaxing. From Kayaks to high-powered bass boats, Striped Bass, Sunshine bass, Largemouth, and Suwanee Bass can be found in the rivers of central Florida in addition to channel catfish, chain pickerel, sunfish, and gar.

The lakes of central Florida are the true mecca for outdoor activities. With lakes varying in size from small 500-acre lakes to the massive and infamous Lake Okeechobee, there are plenty of lakes to choose from. Many of central Florida’s lakes are referred to as a chain of lakes, meaning a cluster of lakes interconnected by wetlands, canals, and marshes. 

Notable lake chains include the Clermont and Kissimmee chain of lakes. In these areas, anglers and boaters can enjoy several lakes in a confined area. Access can be had through a system of interconnecting canals, and public boat launches are plentiful throughout central Florida, so access is no problem whatsoever.


Fishing ★★★★★
Fishing in Florida’s central region easily deserves 5 stars. As mentioned above, Central Florida has some of the best largemouth bass fishing in the world. However, that’s far from the only thing worthy of going after with a rod and reel in any of the many lakes and rivers in central Florida.

Panfish lovers can expect to catch copious bluegill, bream, crappie, and other sunfish. In addition, invasive tilapia are also present and plentiful, as a result, it has encouraged anglers to harvest the tilapia they catch.

Catfish, Chain Pickerel, and Gar are also native inhabitants of central Florida’s lakes and rivers. For additional bass fishing opportunities, Suwanee Bass can be found in the northern reaches of central Florida. Striped, White, and Sunshine (hybrid) bass inhabit the St. Johns River and its tributaries adding to the possibility for some truly exciting bass fishing action.

You can’t go wrong with any type of fishing in central Florida. If you’ve never been and are thinking of making a trip, this is your reminder to make it happen!

Species: Bluegill, Bream, Crappie, Panfish, Sunfish, Tilapia, Chain Pickerel, Gar, Suwanee Bass, Striped Bass, White Bass, Sunshine Bass, Largemouth Bass.

Hunting ★★★★

We’ve given the hunting in central 4 stars because of high hunting pressure and sporadic big game  opportunities.

While whitetail deer are present, the densely populated region of central Florida makes quality deer hunting access limited. Bucks rarely make it to trophy potential and high hunting pressure makes central Florida difficult for whitetails.

Aside from Whitetail hunting, other hunting opportunities in central Florida are great. Additionally, with all the lakes, rivers, and wetlands in the region, it’s a hotspot for waterfowl hunting. Teal, Wood Ducks, and many species of diver ducks offer great wing shooting. Wild boar and small game are also abundant, adding to the possibilities.

The most unique hunting central Florida provides is turkey hunting for the Osceola subspecies. This subspecies of wild turkey is only found in the southern two-thirds of the Florida peninsula, so it presents a unique hunt, especially if you’re trying to accomplish a North American wild turkey grand slam. 

Species:  Whitetail Deer, Wild Boar, Small Game, Osceola Turkey, Waterfowl, Blue Wing Teal, Green Wing  Teal, Fulvous Tree Duck, Black Bellied Whistling Duck, Mottled Duck, Wood Duck, Scaup, Redhead, Canvasback, Gadwall.

Hiking,  Biking, and Nature Trails ★★★
Though there are plenty of hiking and biking trails in central Florida, the flat topography throughout most of Florida makes it less than exciting. Much of central Florida is prairie-like grasslands with tall pines sparsely spread throughout, and it’s worth checking out. Myriad nature trails throughout local, state, and federal parks are a true highlight of Central Florida, and often receive less fanfare than some of the coastal parks.

We suggest targeting the trails around the plentiful lakes, rivers, and springs for best wildlife and bird viewing year-round!

Kayaking ★★★★★
With all the water available in central Florida, kayaking is excellent. You can meander through lazy flowing rivers, or paddle through a chain of lakes by traversing through connecting canal systems. On your kayaking adventures, you’re sure to see plenty of alligators, unique bird species, and much more.

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